Your 2019 guide to Christmas tree and menorah lightings around San Diego County

From Oceanside to Chula Vista, communities are decking the halls with bright lights, holiday decor and visits with Santa Claus


Christmas is about a month away. We’re busily making shopping lists and checking them twice, planning holiday dinners for friends and family or spending a day at a nearby tree lot or farm picking out that perfect Christmas tree. But there’s one thing we can all share together: annual community tree lighting ceremonies. Some are also hosting menorah lightings to mark the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Here is a list of some of the major neighborhood gatherings — organized by county and then by date. They are free and open to the public.

SeaWorld San Diego's nightly tree lighting.
SeaWorld San Diego’s nightly tree lighting.
(SeaWorld San Diego)


Central San Diego

The Old Globe: The 14th annual Christmas Tree Lighting will be held at 6 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Globe’s Copley Plaza, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park. The tree will stand in the center of the Plaza through the run of the production of “Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” Nov. 10-Dec. 29. Performances will be at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The tree lighting event includes a special live performance by the show’s cast members amid a holiday snowfall on the Globe Plaza. The event is free, but reservations are required. For information, call the box office at (619) 234-5623.

SeaWorld San Diego: Guests of the marine park can gather at Rudolph’s Christmastown at 5 p.m. Nov. 23-Jan. 5 for the lighting of the park’s Happiest Christmas Tree. Rudolph (and his shiny nose) and friends lead a sing-along ceremony, illuminating the 40-foot, animated tree, which dances and twinkles to classic songs from the nostalgic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special. In addition to the tree lighting, SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration also features Santa’s Christmas Village, “Clyde & Seamore’s Christmas Special” sea lion and otter show and more. The Christmas Celebration festivities, including the tree lighting, are included with park admission. 500 SeaWorld Drive, San Diego. (619) 222-4732.

Bankers Hill: The 22nd annual Holiday Lighting Display at The Forward House (Bankers Hill mansion built in 1905 for San Diego Mayor John Forward Sr.) begins at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Santa will be making a pre-Christmas stop in his sleigh on Dec. 7 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., and all visitors will receive a candy cane. Walk or drive by from 5 to 10 p.m. nightly through New Year’s Eve. 108 Ivy St., five blocks west of Balboa Park and three blocks south of Laurel Street. (619) 533-7900.

La Jolla: La Valencia Hotel’s annual Tree Lighting and Holiday Party will be held Dec. 5 in the La Sala Lounge with warm holiday beverages, homemade cookies, classic carols and children’s crafts. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., with tree lighting countdown at 5 p.m. 1132 Prospect St. (858) 424-0771.

Point Loma: Gather around the 88-foot Norfolk Pine tree for the lighting of the tree at 6:15 p.m. Nov. 29 at Liberty Station, North Promenade, 2848 Dewey Road, San Diego. From 4 to 9 p.m., there will be live entertainment, festive firetruck rides, free pictures with Santa, food vendors, a screening of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and ice skating at Rady Children’s Ice Rink in Central Promenade will be open all evening.

Christmas on the Prado: The sixth annual family-oriented and charity toy drive (not affiliated with Balboa Park’s December Nights) will be held from 1 to 8 p.m. Nov. 30, with a Christmas tree lighting at Spreckels Organ Pavilion, 2125 Pan American Road E., San Diego and from noon to 4 p.m. at the International Cottages’ Music Stage, 2191 Pan American Road W., San Diego. Bring an unwrapped toy for the Toys for Tots Toy Drive.

Pacific Beach: Christmas on Crystal Pier takes place from 2 to 5 p.m. Dec. 7 with Santa and Mrs. Claus, followed by the lighting of the pier tree at sunset. Pictures are $10, or $5 with a donation of school supplies.

Ocean Beach: The Ocean Beach Town Council hosts its 39th annual Ocean Beach Holiday Parade on Dec. 7. It kicks off at 5:05 p.m. down Newport Avenue and includes the lighting of the Christmas tree.

South Park: The Holiday Walkabout & Tree Lighting will take place all in the same day starting at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at Grape Street Square, San Diego. Live entertainment, complimentary treats and special offers.

Hillcrest: Mama’s Kitchen and Village Hillcrest host its annual Tree of Life Tree Lighting Ceremony at 6 p.m. Dec. 1 at 3965 Fifth Ave., San Diego. The event includes a candlelight vigil and singing and sharing. (619) 233-6262.

Little Italy: At 6:30 p.m. Dec. 7, gather around as the new permanent, more-than-25-foot-tall live tree lights up the Piazza della Famiglia on West Date and India streets. Nearby, in the Piazza Basilone, a brand new 25-foot tall Christmas tree designed by California artist, Joshua Hubert, will dazzle like a disco ball with all different colors all night long. A Christmas Village will be open from 4 to 8 p.m.

Coronado: Celebrate 131 years of a holiday legend as the Hotel Del Coronado lights the menorah to celebrate the eight nights of Hanukkah from Dec. 22 to Dec. 29 in the lobby at 1500 Orange Ave. Celebrate Hanukkah on Dec. 26 at “Chanukah on Ice” at Skating by the Sea, with a special skating session, menorah lighting and Hanukkah treats, hosted by the Chabad of Coronado.

Point Loma: Liberty Station will host a Hanukkah Celebration and Menorah Lighting from 5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 22. Check the website for details.

Coronado: The 44th annual Holiday Parade and Open House kicks off the season with the Christmas Parade along Orange Avenue at 6 p.m. Dec. 6, followed by the Christmas tree lighting and Santa’s arrival at Rotary Plaza, 1100 Orange Ave.

Balboa Park: The tree at the Organ Pavilion will be lit around 6:15 p.m. Dec. 6 during December Nights’ opening ceremony.

Coronado: Naval Base Coronado presents a Holiday Concert & Tree Lighting Dec. 8 at North Island Naval Air Station, Lowry Theater, 650 McCain Blvd. The concert starts at 7 p.m., followed by the tree lighting at 8:15 p.m. A Christkindlmarket will be open from 3 to 7 p.m. (619) 437-3190.


East County

Santee: Kick off the holiday season at this annual Tree Lighting Celebration at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 22 at Santee Trolley Square, 9884 Mission Gorge Road. Holiday happenings take place from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

La Mesa: Grossmont Center will Light Up the Holidays with a giant Christmas tree lighting in Center Court at 4 p.m. Nov. 29. Families can visit and take a photo with St. Nick at Santa’s Hut from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 29-Dec. 23. 5500 Grossmont Center Drive, La Mesa.

El Cajon: The annual Holiday Lights on Main Street will be held from 1 to 7 p.m. Nov. 30 at Prescott Promenade. A special tree lighting ceremony takes place at 6 p.m. at the corner of Main Street and Magnolia Avenue. There’s a Santa Village with ice skating, carnival rides, vendors, holiday music, food and Santa Claus.

Julian: The mountain community’s annual Country Christmas Tree Lighting kicks off the season at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at Pioneer Park, 2811 Washington St. (760) 765-1857.

Lakeside: The 21st annual Spirit of Christmas celebration includes a tree lighting ceremony at 5 p.m. Dec. 7 on Maine Avenue. Activities take place from 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. and include local area school performances, food, kids’ activities, craft booths and photos with Santa.

Ramona: The 27th annual Christmas Tree Lighting happens at 6 p.m. Dec. 7 in front of the Guy B. Woodward Museum, 645 Main St. Family-friendly events such as sleigh rides, classic car display, carolers, visits with Santa and a “Find the Elf” contest will be held from 5 to 8 p.m.

Alpine: The Alpine Mountain Empire Chamber of Commerce hosts the annual tree lighting from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at the Historic Town Hall, 2156 Alpine Blvd, Alpine. The 24th annual Village Christmas Parade of Lights and Snow Festival kicks off Dec. 6 with a parade at 6:30 p.m. at Alpine Boulevard, from West Victoria Drive and Tavern Road, ending at the Alpine Creek Town Center, 1347 Tavern Road, where the celebration continues with snow sledding, kids’ activities and vendors.

Lemon Grove: Mayor Racquel Vasquez will light the Community Bonfire at 6 p.m. Dec. 6 at Civic Center Park, 3200 Main St. Event attractions will be at the park from 4 to 8 p.m., including live music, food trucks, vendors, a Kids Zone, spaghetti-eating contest and ugly sweater contest, hot chocolate and cookies. (619) 825-3815.

Alpine: Children’s Nature Retreat will host its annual lighting of the Christmas tree at 4 p.m. Dec. 15 at 5178 Japatul Spur. Enjoy some hot chocolate and cookies, and visit with the animals all dressed in their finest coats and ready to celebrate the holiday season. Included with admission price. Reservations: (619) 320-4942.


South Bay

Chula Vista: Otay Ranch Town Center will host a Holiday Tree Lighting at 7 p.m. Nov. 19 at 2015 Birch Road. From 5 to 7 p.m., families and shoppers can enjoy festivities like free performances, crafts, cookies, hot chocolate, and of course Santa Claus. There’s also a holiday-themed farmers market. (619) 656-1393.

Bonita: The Bonita Museum and Cultural Center presents its annual Tree Lighting festivities from 5 to 7 p.m. Dec. 14 at 4355 Bonita Road. (619) 267-5141. Activities include crafts, cookie decorating, cider, music and Santa Claus.

National City: The 12th annual A Kimball Holiday will be held from 3 to 9 p.m. Dec. 14 at Kimball Park, E. 12th St., National City. Winter activities include ice skating and sledding, train rides, food trucks, entertainment, a Ferris wheel, and a tree lighting. (619) 336-4290.


North Inland

Fallbrook: Along with the annual Holiday Tree Lighting, there’s music, face painting, games, food, balloon artists and more. 5 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Fallbrook Community Center, 341 Heald Lane. (760) 728-1671.

San Marcos: The annual Tree Lighting and Vendor Market takes place from 1 to 7 p.m. Dec. 7 at the San Marcos Civic Center, 3 Civic Center Drive. The event includes free festive crafts and activities, as well as vendors selling their wares and snacks. Entertainment will be featured in the courtyard. Santa will light the San Marcos tree at 5:35 p.m.

Escondido: The annual Winter Wonderland Festival at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Dec. 7 at 340 N. Escondido Blvd. There will be carolers, children’s crafts, holiday-themed entertainers, live reindeer and Santa. At dusk, the Lyric Court will be illuminated with thousands of twinkling lights to usher in the holiday season. (800) 988-4253.

Carmel Valley: The Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch hosts a tree lighting ceremony and holiday festivities from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30 in the Village Square, 13490 Pacific Highlands Ranch Parkway. Highlights include live music, free photos with Santa, train rides and holiday treats.

Vista: Vista Village welcomes visitors to WinterFest from 2 to 7 p.m. Dec. 8 at Vista Village Complex, 25 Main St. Activities include live entertainment and music, roaming mariachis, holiday movies, ugly sweater contest, homemade tamales competition, a holiday marketplace, visits with Santa, and a tree lighting ceremony.

Poway: A community tree lighting kicks off Christmas in the Park at 5:15 p.m. Dec. 14 at Old Poway Park, 14134 Midland Road. Carolers, live music, horse-drawn hay and pony rides, visits with Santa and other activities will be held from 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. (858) 668-4576.


North Coastal

2018 Lighting of the Forum.
(The Forum Carlsbad)

Carlsbad: The 17th annual “The Lighting of the Forum” will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 30 at The Forum Carlsbad, 1923 Calle Barcelona. A holiday tree lighting ushers in the season just after Santa’s arrival at 7:20 p.m., followed by a light show and magical snowfall. Free refreshments, prize drawings and musical performances are part of the event. (760) 479-0166.

Carlsbad: Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, 2100 Costa Del Mar Road, welcomes the holiday season with Carols of Carlsbad and Tree Lighting Dec. 7. Festivities run from 3 to 8 p.m. and include a holiday market, live performance, cookie decorating, hot chocolate and cider, and a visit from skydiving Santa (weather permitting). (760) 438-9111.

Botanic Wonderland Holiday Nights in the Garden.
(Photo courtesy of Rachel Cobb)

Encinitas: San Diego Botanic Garden will illuminate 37 acres of flora, including pine trees, Pony Tail palms and aloes, Dragon trees and bamboo, with more than 125,000 sparkling lights during its Botanic Wonderland Holiday Nights in the Garden. There’s nightly entertainment, visits with Santa, holiday crafts, twinkling light tunnel, dazzling 10-foot poinsettia tower, a musical light show and Kids Fun Zone with nightly “snowfall.” There’s a food truck court, a beer, wine and mulled wine garden, hot chocolate, coffee and more. Visitors can stop by from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 3-8, 10-15,17-23 and 26-30 at 230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas.

Encinitas: Santa will light the Christmas tree at 5 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Lumberyard courtyard (near Starbucks), 937 S. Coast Highway 101, followed by a holiday parade at 5:30 p.m. along the 101. (760) 633-2760.

Carlsbad: The Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park, 6200 Flying Leo Carrillo Lane, will host Holiday at the Rancho, an evening of festivities, from 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 7. Activities include crafts, snowball fight, entertainment, a holiday movie, and a tree lighting at 5:45 p.m. on the sand near the pool. Food, beverages and souvenir photos s are available for an additional cost. Tickets are available for presale or onsite. For more information, call (760) 602-7519.

Cardiff-by-the-Sea: Cardiff 101 Main Street will host Kringle Mingle from 1 to 5 p.m. Dec. 1 at the North Courtyard of Cardiff Town Center. The event features a children’s craft pavilion, photos with Santa in his vintage Camera Camper Sleigh, live music, holiday treats, including acai bites, hot chocolate and hot coffee. Drink up for a cause at the Lost Abbey Confessional, a Happy Hour fundraiser to benefit the Cardiff community. The event concludes with the tree lighting ceremony at 5 p.m.

Del Mar: Hosted by Del Mar Village, the Santa by the Sea holiday festivities start at 3 p.m. Dec. 8 on the northwest corner of Camino Del Mar and 15th Street, followed by a 5 p.m. tree lighting. Festivities include holiday treats and refreshments, crafts, including designing your own Rad Hatter holiday hats, live music, photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus and letters to Santa workshop.

Solana Beach: The city’s annual Holiday Tree Lighting starts at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 8 at Fletcher Cove Park, 111 S. Sierra Ave. Live music, cookies, cider and a visit from Santa Claus at 5:20 p.m. (858) 720-2453.

Oceanside: The annual Holiday Tree Lighting takes place at 6 p.m. Dec. 5 at Regal Cinema Plaza, 401 Mission Ave. Visitors will enjoy holiday music and carolers, family-friendly entertainment and games, horse-and-carriage rides, amusement rides, zip lines, bounce houses, free cookies and milk for the kids and free holiday arts and crafts projects from 5 to 8:30 p.m.

Are we missing your neighborhood? Please let us know of any additional holiday ceremonies.